Roger Moore owns Nautical Ventures, which has a handful of boat dealerships in Florida. One of the brands his company carries is Axopar, a line of sleek boats built in Finland.
“The design is different. The axe bow, the European appearance — it’s different from any other center console out there,” says Moore, who lives on his boat on the New River in Broward County, Fla. “I see every brand go by, and most of them look very similar, and Axopar goes by, and you’ll notice every head turns.”
That response was the intent when Jan-Erik Viitala and Sakari Mattila founded Axopar in 2014. The partners, along with naval architect Jarkko Jämsen, designed the Axopar 28. It debuted at the Helsinki International Boat Show later that year, drawing a ton of attention. They had launched a couple of companies in the Scandinavian marine industry and decided to start a new one. Their intent was to build a boat with good performance that would be used as more of a day model, and that would look unlike anything the recreational boating industry had seen.
The name Axopar is an amalgam of letters from three companies the partners previously founded. For the hull design, Viitala and his team looked at the bottoms used on rigid-hull inflatables.
“We wanted the boats to be lighter and be great handling, and this sent us out looking at boat types that were low weight, low [center of gravity] and low mass, and our attention turned to the RIB boats,” he says. “Let’s see how we can make a rigid inflatable boat without the tubes.”
Much like the small sponson or pontoon that the late Italian designer Fabio Buzzi used on each side of his performance hulls, a second chine is on every Axopar. The chine is about 2 inches wide, and it stabilizes the hull. The goal of the design is to have four balancing points and a lower center of gravity. Even with the sharp bow, Axopar’s 28-foot and 37-foot models don’t plow in a following sea. They earn strong reviews for overall handling.
“We are making family boats that are great for multipurpose use,” Viitala says, adding that Axopars may have stepped bottoms, but they are not high-performance boats.
Axopar also developed a platform concept for designing and building its boats. The company has two locations: one in Vaasa, Finland, for creative and marketing offices, and the other in Helsinki, housing operations. Contract manufacturers at two factories in Poland build the 700 boats that Axopar produces each year. As many components as possible are sourced in Finland, but the lamination and assembly take place in Poland, at the same facility that builds Sea Rays.
“Poland today is the biggest manufacturing country for powerboats in Europe, and the sheer size of the factories is way bigger than any plant in Finland,” Viitala says. One of the OEM facilities in Poland has on-site shops for carpentry, stainless steel, plexiglass, upholstery, decking hardware and aluminum, right alongside the lamination.
Viitala says that using the Polish factories is critical to being able to keep boat prices down. A 37-foot Axopar with twin outboards starts around $250,000, and a well-equipped version goes out for about $265,000. That’s a lot cheaper than a 37-foot, U.S.-built center console. (A Boston Whaler 380 Outrage has a base retail price of $594,606 with triple 300-hp Mercury outboards.) Axopar’s best sellers are the 37-foot Sun-Top and Cross Cabin.
With all that said, Americans may notice a difference on board. A 37-foot Axopar has an 11-foot beam and weighs in at about 10,500 pounds rigged and ready to run. By contrast, a Whaler 380 Outrage has an 11-foot, 8-inch beam and tips the scales at about 20,000 pounds. The Axopar runs well with twin outboards, while the Whaler needs three. Also, because labor is cheaper in Poland than in the United States, Axopar can put more man-hours into finishing its boats than U.S. builders can.
The 37-foot and 28-foot Axopars are offered in three basic layouts: open, partially open and fully enclosed. Viitala says 75 percent of the parts used on a given model are the same, regardless of the layout. The final 25 percent is the difference, and by using an array of changeable modules, Axopar can customize a model with an aft cabin, a stowage compartment, live wells or a wet bar.
“It’s a puzzle we are doing, but by doing this we can keep up with high-volume production,” Viitala says. “It has a lot to do with the platform thinking we have for our products. We are working hard to create one platform, like in the auto industry.”
There are also many multiuse items on the boats. Flip up the helm seats on the Axopar 28, and underneath are a sink and drop-in cooler.
Axopar ships boats to every corner of the globe, and about 25 percent of its production comes to the United States. “As more boats are being sold in the U.S., we try to adapt to produce one boat for one world, and this means every boat that leaves our plant needs to be capable of going anywhere in the world without modifications,” Viitala says, adding with a laugh: “The one thing we get the most grief from in the U.S. is the small size of our cup holders.”
Because the boats are sold everywhere, they’re built with a straightforward laminate with a solid-fiberglass bottom. The construction allows for repairs virtually anywhere. Above the waterline, the hulls are cored.
“We have 100 dealers in more than 50 countries,” Viitala says. “If you hit a rock and you need to fix the hull, it needs to be straightforward work.”
The evolution of Axopars has revolved around responding to input from customers. For example, the latest 37-foot model has a forward cabin with gull-wing-style doors that open up and out. This design uses the doors to provide shade when they’re opened and still let air flow through the cabin, all of which makes the boat more usable.
One owner customized his Axopar in a way that led to a whole series. Bodo Buschmann, founder of Brabus — known for customizing supercars and SUVs — bought a 37-foot Axopar, painted it gunmetal gray and decked it out in Brabus style as a tender for his yacht. “When he got the boat in the water, he immediately understood he wanted to partner with us to create a luxury performance boat,” Viitala says. “He wanted to create a boat that expanded out of the traditional boat market.”
Today, the Brabus Marine Shadow 900 is based on a 37-foot Axopar. It runs at about 60 knots. The partnership started in 2018 (the same year Buschmann died), and about 60 of the Brabus models have been produced. To keep the model’s exclusivity, Viitala doesn’t want to produce more than 10 percent of Axopar’s production as Brabus in a given year.
Moving forward, Viitala says, Axopar is looking at building bigger models. “We will continue to utilize the maximum space on the boat, but we do it in a European way,” Viitala says.
And you can bet that whatever Axopar does in the future, the finished product will turn heads.
This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.